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Jefferson Airplane: After Bathing at Baxter’s (1967)

As everyone knows that Jefferson Airplane was riding high in 1967 when they released Surrealistic Pillow. Original members Signe Anderson and Skip Spence left in 1966 following the release of Takes Off. Anderson left to start a family, and Spence went and formed Moby Grape, in comes Grace Slick (ex-Great Society) and Spencer Dryden. These new members, alongside Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Jorma Kaukonen, and Jack Casady, defined the classic Airplane lineup. We all know Surrealistic Pillow spawned two big hits, “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” (both Great Society songs that Grace Slick brought to the Airplane), and it earned them a ton of fame.

June 1967 saw the Beatles releasing Sgt. Pepper, we all know what happened after that: it gave people brand new ideas and attitudes to the approach of music. And that affected Jefferson Airplane, so they quickly got to work on that followup to Surrealistic Pillow. RCA was obviously pleased with the success of that album so they gave the band total artistic control. And the results was After Bathing at Baxter’s, which saw the light of day in November 1967. And the results were shocking! This ain’t exactly what RCA had in mind. RCA expected a continuation of Surrealistic Pillow, instead they got a much more experimental album. The reason: the band did not want to make hit singles, so they purposely created an album not to yield hits. It’s also a harder-edge album, because there were likely a few detractors who thought of the Airplane as a bunch of softies. This time, the band went for five suites, all divided into separate songs. Those five suites were “Streetmasse”, “The War is Over”, “Hymn to an Older Generation”, “How Suite it Is”, and “Shizoforest Love Suite”. “Streetmasse” starts off with “The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil”. With guitar feedback, and a harder rocking sound, with more elaborate vocal harmonies, you knew this was going to be different from Surrealistic Pillow. “A Small Package For You Will Come To You Shortly” is an bizarre, experimental piece that’s not unlike the more experimental moments of Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention. Something completely alien on Surrealistic Pillow. Then comes “Young Girl Sunday Blues”, written by both Kantner and Balin, with Balin handling lead vocals. This is, unfortunately, the only song to feature Balin on lead. It’s a rather straightforward rocker. “The War is Over” starts with a wonderful acoustic Kantner number called “Martha” with some really nice use of recorder. “Wild Thyme (H)” demonstrates how After Bathing at Baxter’s is a harder-edge album than anything they done before. “Hymn to an Older Generator” includes “The Last Wall of the Castle” and “rejoyce”. The latter is a Grace Slick composition, a classically-influnced piece dominated by piano, Grace Slick’s unmistakable voice, plenty of tempo changes, some jazzy and Middle Eastern-influenced passages. “rejoyce” is strangely the Jefferson Airplane playing a brand of progressive rock that ’70s bands like Renaissance would later do! And this was 1967, coming from a Bay Area acid rock band, when, in Britain, the Moody Blues just released Days of Future Passed, and Procol Harum released their first full-length album (“A Whiter Shade of Pale” was released as a single prior to the album’s release). “How Suite it Is” features “Watch Her Ride” and “Spare Chaynge”. This latter piece really polarizes listeners. Many think it’s one of the worst things the Airplane ever done, but to me, it’s actually quite good. What they were doing is an extended jam, other Bay Area bands like Moby Grape, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and of course, the Grateful Dead were well known for jams, so the Airplane got in the game. The first half simply consists of Jack Casady playing on his bass, and it only really takes off when the rest of the band kicks in (Jorma Kaukonen’s guitar playing, and Spencer Dryden’s drumming). “Shizophrenic Love Suite” consists of “Two Heads” and “Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon”. The former is from Grace Slick, and reminds me a bit of “Somebody to Love”. I like the use of electric harpsichord on this piece. Somewhere, if you listen clearly, Grace Slick quietly sings “Fuck you”. The presence of profanity on their albums was the result of RCA letting them have full artistic control. The latter features a lot of flower power lyrics, and a nice piece, overall.

Apparently Jefferson Airplane wanted to name this album After Taking LSD, but that would be a bit obvious so the album was called After Bathing at Baxter’s. The album is supposedly the affect of being under the influence of LSD. And the reason for songs being called “rejoyce” and “Spare Chaynge” was the band admired James Joyce.

After Bathing at Baxter’s was a huge shock for so many reasons: that the band would take such a huge risk so quick, in the same year they released the hugely successful Surrealistic Pillow. Surrealistic Pillow consisted of simple, easily enjoyable, relatively straightforward songs (aside from the obvious hits like “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”, you also got great songs like “Today” and “Coming Back to Me”). After Bathing at Baxter’s did not. And I’m certain even the band realized recording an album like Baxter’s so quickly would alienate a large part of their audience, and that was true (Baxter’s did not do as so well, in terms of chart success as Pillow). Even RCA warned the band. I am convinced had they done Crown of Creation first, then Baxter’s, the public might have been more ready.

Regardless, this is a truly great album, it requires a few listens to get it, after all, it is a much more elaborate and ambitious album than anything they did before. Another classic from the Bay Area, as far as I’m concerned.
– Paul Kantner: vocals, guitars
– Grace Slick: vocals, piano, recorder
– Marty Balin: vocals, guitars
– Jorma Kaukonen: guitars
– Jack Casady: bass
– Spencer Dryden: drums

Chicago: The Chicago Transit Authority (1969)

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I know, I know, the name Chicago might get many of you running like hell. Cheesy hit ballads like “You’re the Inspiration” is enough to make me run as well. But that was another era: the 1980s. Genesis was also making cheesy hit ballads by then (that were pretty indistinguishible from the solo stuff Phil Collins did). But like Genesis, Chicago had an earlier history that gave them much more credibility. They were much better!

In the spring of 1969 the band who was then known as The Chicago Transit Authority released their debut album. The real Chicago Transity Authority (the city’s public transit system) didn’t quite like the band using that name so the band was simply changed to just Chicago shortly thereafter.

1969 was a popular year for big band rock. Blood, Sweat & Tears was riding high on their self-entitled second album (the debut with David Clayton-Thomas), and that band was managed by James William Guercio. Guercio wanted to duplicate BS&T’s success with Chicago, and succeeded he did (Chicago’s popularity way outlasted BS&T, BS&T’s popularity didn’t last much past 1971, while Chicago got bigger and bigger into the 1980s, unfortunately becoming crappier as time went on).

The band consisted of guitarist Terry Kath, bassist Peter Cetera, keyboardist Robert Lamm, and drummer Daniel Seraphine, with three horn players: James Pankow on trombone, Lee Loughnane on trumpet, and Walter Parazaider on other wind instruments (like flute, sax, etc.). Terry Kath, Peter Cetera, and Robert Lamm does the vocal duties here.

I have constantly heard that the Chicago Transit Authority album is the first ’70s album of the ’60s. I have to agree, this band knew right away if they did something like The Lemon Pipers, they’d end up in a dead-end real fast, so they obviously created music that was to last them the new decade, especially when they realize they had the 1970s to take on.

At this early in their career, the band included pop, jazz and blues into their music, and they succeeded. It’s not too often a band would record their debut as a double LP set, but Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention (Freak Out) was one, and Chicago was the other. Chicago would not release a single LP set until 1972 (Chicago V), they would release two more double LP sets (Chicago II and III), and a monster live four LP box set (Live at Carnegie Hall) before bothering with that single LP set. “Introduction” is actually a real song, despite the title. This is Terry Kath’s song, and he handles the vocals, and it shows that he has a bluesier voice. The song starts right away with nice horn arrangements and nice organ work from Robert Lamm. The music goes through several changes, including a nice trumpet solo from James Pankow. The next two song are familiar to anyone who listened to the radio: “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is” and “Beginnings”. Robert Lamm was responsible for these songs, and no surprise they were the more pop-oriented songs on this album. At least they are miles better than the cheesy crap Peter Cetera would inflict us in the ’80s. Neither songs were immediate hits, they became hits after the second and even third albums came out (1970-71). “Questions 67 & 68” was also written by Robert Lamm, but in this case it was Peter Cetera handling the vocals. He has that unmistakable high pitched voice, but unlike “You’re the Inspiration”, it’s much easier to take in. Again, a more pop-oriented song. Robert Lamm gave us the short but wonderful “Listen”. Great song, with great horn arrangements. Things start getting more adventurous with another Robert Lamm composition, this time “Poem 58”. It features an extended guitar jam from Terry Kath, then eventually the vocals kick in, and you can tell it’s a rather bluesy number. Terry Kath gives us “Free Form Guitar”, which many people think is the low-point of the album. Basically this is a bunch of feedback and distortion. I can understand why he’d do this: he was big on Hendrix and Hendrix was well known for including lots of distortion and feedback. This piece reminds me of Hendrix playing “The Star Spangled Banner” without playing “The Star Spangled Banner”, basically. Back to music with “South California Purples” is very much like “Poem 58”, with a strong bluesy feel, then comes a creative cover of the Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man”. Having heard the original, I’m happy to say the Chicago put their own creative stamp on it, especially with that extended percussion solo. The original was much more radio friendly than Chicago’s yet I have heard Chicago’s version on the FM dial from time to time. The band expressed their social and political views with “Prologue, August 29, 1968” and “Someday (August 29, 1968)”, starting off with a recording of protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in ’68 chanting “The whole world is watching”, before the actual music kicks in. Both Robert Lamm and Peter Cetera handle vocal duties showing their concern about the riots and Mayor Richard Daley, more or less. The final cut is an extended jam, “Liberation”, largely consisting of a guitar solo from Terry Kath, but then there’s a short experimental passage, before settling down at the end with some nice horn arrangements.

Well, what can I say, I’m happy to say that Chicago wasn’t always the unbearably cheesy hitmaking machine they later became. This debut album shows that the band had plenty of credibility, and lots of great material to back it up. So get this album, you’re attitude toward Chicago might change. If you already have this album (many do), then you already know. Great stuff!
– Robert Lamm: keyboards, vocals
– Peter Cetera: bass, vocals
– Terry Kath: guitars, vocals
– Daniel Seraphine: drums, percussion
– Walter Parazaider: woodwinds, background vocals
– Lee Loughnane: trumpet
– James Pankow: trombone

The Grateful Dead: Anthem of the Sun (1968)

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Anthem of the Sun was of course, the Dead’s second album, and the first to bring in Mickey Hart and Tom Constanten (although Constanten’s appearance on this album was unofficial, although that would quickly change). Tom Constanten was brought in for the most complex keyboard duties, since Ron “Pigpen” McKernan tended to prefer more simple R&B-influenced playing.

This has simply got to be the most “far out” album to come out of the late ’60s Bay Area. For this album, the band recorded a bunch of stuff in the studio, and included a bunch of live snippets which they spliced in. Phil Lesh was apparently a big fan of avant garde classical like John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and it shows here. The album starts off with “That’s It For the Other One”. Here you get treated with Jerry Garcia’s unmistakable voice. I really love how the music kicks into high gear. The intensity is unbelievable, and you gotta hear it to believe it (especially if you thought the Dead were always mellow and laid-back). During these more intense moments, Bob Weir takes his turn at singing. The original theme returns, another intense guitar solo, then comes some really bizarre experiments that end this odd piece. The band then does mellow out with “New Potato Caboose”, which is dominated by vocals, harpsichord, celeste, and acoustic guitar. Despite the acoustic nature of this piece, it’s still quite different from the folk/country-influenced albums of 1970, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. “Born Cross-Eyed” is a rather short piece, with some Spanish influence, especially from the trumpet (courtesy of Phil Lesh, who was trained on that instrument before turning to bass). Mickey Hart’s presence can be felt on this next piece, “Alligator”. The vocal section features piano and kazoo, but then this piece goes into percussion overdrive, with both Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. It’s no mistaking what parts Mickey Hart is playing: all those percussion instruments (he is a big percussion nut, and it shows, not to mention you should get his 1990 book co-written by Jay Stevens called Drumming at the Edge of Magic, although a tie-in for a solo album Hart was doing at the time, called At the Edge, shows his enthusiasm for percussion clearly). Next is the final cut: “Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)”. It starts off with some semi-spoken dialog from Pigpen, and lots of percussion, then the music goes off into some really tripped-out experiments that close this album.

Warning: around 1971, this album, as well as their followup, Aoxomoxoa received some new, extended remixing, and apparently the current CD reissues with all those live bonus cuts consists of the 1971 remix for the original album part, so exercise caution when buying these albums (if you collect LPs, it’s safe you have the originals if it has the green “W7” label). Sadly I never heard the original mix of these two albums, so I’m unable to say the difference.

Now this album isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Some will write it off as “noise” that you have to be stoned to appreciate. But for those who want something off-the-wall, or curious of how the Dead sounds at their most experimental, then go for this album.
– Jerry Garcia: guitar, vocals
– Bob Weir: guitar, vocals
– Phil Lesh: bass guitar, trumpet
– Ron Pigpen McKernan: organ
– Bill Kreutzmann: drums
– Mickey Hart: drums, percussion
– Tom Constanten: keyboards

Crucis: Crucis and Los Delirios del Mariscal (1976/’77)

It’s so interesting to note that Latin American has had their share of prog rock bands. In Mexico you have Iconoclasta, Delirium (not to be confused with the ’70s Italian prog band), Nobilis Factum, Códice, and one of the more popular bands, Cast. In Brazil you have latter-day Os Mutantes (post-Rita Lee), O Terço, Sagrado Coração da Terra, Bacamarte, and many more. Then you have Argentina, in which you have groups like Invisible, Espiritu, Ave Rock, Pablo “El Enterrador”, and the band I’m focusing on here, Crucis.

This Buenos Aires based band is regarded as one of Argentina’s best prog bands. The music circled around keyboardist Anibal Kerpel (who plays Mini Moog, Hammond organ, Hohner Clavinet, electric piano, and string synths) and guitarist Pino Marrone, with bassist Gustavo Montesano, and Uruguayan-born drummer Gonzalo Farrugia. What’s really surprising about the music of Crucis is you won’t find any Latin/Spanish/South American (or tango, for that matter, which is native to Argentina) influences in any of their music, as close to Latin here is the vocals, which are in Spanish. Musically they’re much closer to such Dutch acts as Focus or Finch, with some Pink Floyd and Camel thrown in. Their self-entitled debut, from 1976, shows what this band was capable of. The opening cut, “Todo Tiempo Posible” demonstrates this, with the opening organ. There are some vocals here, as well as some quirky, complex prog passages that would keep the prog fans happy. “Mes” shows a bit heavier-edge of the band, with an almost Deep Purple or Atomic Rooster feel, especially when Anibal Kerpel tries to imitate the style of Jon Lord or Vincent Crane on his organ. “Irónico Ser” also shows a more hard-edge end of the band as well, without the Deep Purple and Atomic Rooster influences. And unlike “Mes” this one has vocals.

I have always felt the album’s high point is “Determinados Espejos”, a totally killer and intense instrumental piece that really demonstrates the talents of Kerpel and Marrone. In fact, in part of this cut, both of them do a little guitar/Moog contest, where Kerpel would plays some notes on his Moog and then Marrone would copy what he did on his guitar. The one thing I forgot to mention is the drummer, Gonzalo Farrugia was quite a capable drummer.

For their second, and final album, Los Delirios del Mariscal (recorded late in 1976 and released at the beginning of ’77) they decided to drop nearly all the vocals and instead concentrate on instrumentals, which was always the band’s strong-point. The album was recorded at RCA Studios (presumable in Buenos Aires), but mixed at Miami’s infamous Criteria Studios (yes, the same studio the Bee Gees and the Eagles recorded at). This time around, while little Deep Purple/Atomic Rooster influences there were on their debut, was totally thrown out for this album, with perhaps a more fusion-bent on some of the cuts. The album starts off with “No Me Separen de Mî”, which is the only cut on this album with vocals. The vocal passages tend to remind me of such Italian prog bands as PFM or perhaps Corte dei Miracoli. The title track is perhaps a bit more spacy than what the band usually does, bringing to mind Finch’s Beyond Expression, dominated by Anibal Kerpel’s spacy string synth, and Pino Marrone’s guitar playing, which brings to mind Jan Akkerman or Joop van Nimwegen. The last two cuts show the band at their most intense, you have Crucis at their most intense, you have the somewhat more fusion-oriented “Pollo Frito” and the completely-over-the-top “Abismo Terrenal”. The latter is also the longest cut, at 12:30 minutes, the bands really goes in to some very intense passages, where Pino Marrone goes overboard on his guitar. I think you’ll definately fall for this piece if you enjoyed the more intense moments of Finch’s Glory of the Inner Force.

This is some truly great music, and I am actually surprised how well-produced their both albums are, since I’ve often expected lousy productions from Latin American prog albums (like Mexico’s Iconoclasta who made excellent music, but the production was often amateur-ish). And to make life easier on you, if you want to hear both of Crucis’ albums, get Cronología (1992, later spelled Kronología in 1995) CD, which crams both of their albums on one CD (no songs omitted, thankfully). That means you can decide which is the better album. No doubt about it, these two albums are some of the best prog I’ve heard from Latin America, and given this is my first try at Argentine prog, it probably wouldn’t be the last either.
– Anibal Kerpel: organ, Mini Moog synthesizer, Solina string synth, Hohner Clavinet, Fender Rhodes electric piano, vocals
– Pino Marrone: guitar
– Gustavo Montesano: bass, vocals
– Gonzalo Farrugia: drums, percussion.

Curved Air: Phantasmagoria (1972)

Phantasmagoria is the third album by this wonderful, and often underrated British prog rock band. This was also the final album with the original lineup of vocalist Sonja Kristina, keyboardist Francis Monkman, violinist Darryl Way, and drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa. The band at this point was on to their third bassist, in this case Mike Wedgwood who was later a member of Caravan (for the albums Cunning Stunts and Blind Dog at St. Dunstans). The addition of Mike Wedgwood to Curved Air certainly didn’t hurt the band any.

Phantasmagoria is an even more elaborate album than before with more strings and horns added on, plus a jazzier feel, no doubt helped by Florian Pilkington-Miksa’s drumming and even the presence of vibraphone on some of the cuts. The album opens up with “Marie Antoinette”, a Curved Air ballad dominated by the wonderful voice of Sonja Kristina. I like how the rhythm of the song changes as it progresses, while keeping the same melody. The lyrics, unsurprisingly, are about the French Revolution and the beheading of Marie Antoinette. The next song is a truly stunning ballad, “Melinda (More or Less)”, dominated by what sounds like overdubbed violins from Darryl Way, and let’s not forget the voice of Sonja Kristina, this song only proves, in my opinion, that she is one of the great female vocalist. Then there’s the jazzy “Not Quite the Same”. The lyrics deal with masturbation, with lyrics that goes something like “He busies himself/while amusing himself/while abusing himself”.

The next song is the Darry Way instrumental “Cheetah”, which, unsurprisingly is dominated by his violin work. “Ultra Vivaldi” is Francis Monkman playing Vivaldi on his VCS-3 synthesizer. I love how this piece keeps going faster and faster. Of course Phantasmagoria wasn’t the first time Curved Air explored Vivaldi, as they explored Vivaldi on Air Conditioning (their 1970 debut) on two cuts, “Vivaldi” and “Vivaldi with Cannons”. The title track is next, which is a rather straightforward piece with some cleaver lyrics, before going in to a rather bizarre Francis Monkman experiment called “Whose Shoulder Are You Looking Over Anyway?” This one involves Sonja Kristina speaking in to a computer and synthesizer a Lewis Carroll poem, with the help of Peter Zinovieff (who worked for Electronic Music Studio, the company responsible for the VCS-3/Synthi A sythesizer, as well as vocoders). The results make it sound like Sonja Kristina is speaking through a vocoder, which makes me wonder if this experiment inspired EMS (Electronic Music Studio) to develop vocoders? In the background is some strange use of Hammond organ.

The next song, “Over and Above” kicks in. This song shows the jazzier side of Curved Air, especially with a wonderful vibraphone solo. There also a quirky feel in many passages that bring to mind Gentle Giant. Francis Monkman also gives a couple of synth solos where he set the synth to sound like a clarinet (but I can tell it was a synthesizer). The final piece is “Once a Ghost, Always a Ghost”. Often referred to the band exploring mariachi, because there is that “party” atmosphere and horns. It doesn’t sound particularly Mexican, but of that Curved Air prog rock sound. What’s really surprising is the label Curved Air recorded for: Warner Bros., as major of a label as you get, but it’s nice to see a label like them sign such an interesting band as Curved Air.

Although Phantasmagoria is not as direct and accessible as their previous album, Second Album, it’s still a wonderful and rewarding listen, and if you enjoy Curved Air, this album is truly a must!
– Sonja Kristina: vocals
– Francis Monkman: VCS-3 synthesizer, organ, harpsichord, piano, electric piano
– Mike Wedgwood: bass
– Darryl Way: violin
– Florian Pilkington-Miksa: drums

Tidal Flood: Scientific (2002)

There are just too many great bands that slipped right through the cracks. Case in point, this Greek band called Tidal Flood. This band got their exposure during the old days of MP3.com (which beared little relation to its current incarnation, which now seems more like a clone of All Music Guide). Ozric Tentacles is apparently quite popular in Greece, so the band was obviously flattered to see a Greek band picking up their torch. A link to their webpage (when it existed) was included on Mike Werning’s Ozric Tentacles page.

There are two big disappointments: their webpage no longer exists, and although rumors of a full-length album was to come, it never came (the band seemed to have quietly disappeared into oblivion without much reason as to why). Around 2001, the band came up with a three song demo EP called 7Tide. The following year came a five song EP called Scientific, released by the band itself, which is the CD I’m reviewing here.

This is a real treat for all Ozric fans. Many of the same great guitar jams and spacy electronics are to be found here. These guys proved to be no slouches. George Stavroulakis gives some wild guitar, although a bit more restrained than Ed Wynne. Many of the cuts on this album remind me of Jurassic Shift-era Ozrics, especially “Raff Dub ’01”, especially with that repeating bass-line. “7Tide” demonstrate right away the qualities of Tidal Flood, with aggressive guitar playing and great spacy synthesizers. Most of the cuts are around 3-4 minutes, except for “Tidal Mew” which is over 7 minutes, and definately one of the highlights because it really let the band stretch out. This being an EP, one wishes it a full album, but as the case goes, they pulled off some great music, despite the time constraint. There isn’t so much of the techno tendiences of the Ozrics, so if you were bothered at the more techno direction the Ozrics been going with their last couple of CDs (Spirals in Hyperspace, The Floor’s Too Far Away), you’ll be happier with Tidal Flood, as it harkens back to early ’90s Ozrics.

This CD is actually a CD Plus, which also includes multimedia features. You get a couple of video footage of the band performing a couple of their cuts on Greek television (the videos seem to play best on Widows Media Player). Looking at the band, none of them look like they’re over 30, but despite their young age, these guys obviously knew what they were doing. It’s too bad they didn’t go any further than this EP. Plus you also get MP3 files of all five cuts of this EP.

Getting a copy of this EP is likely becoming more difficult all the time, because the band’s webpage has disappeared, but if you can find a copy, and like the Ozrics, get it, you won’t be disappointed.
– George Karras: fretless bass, synth and drum programming, samples, analog oscillators, arrangement, mixing
– George Stavroulakis: electric and acoustic guitar, guitar synth, synths and synth programming, arrangement, sound engineering.

Former band members that contributed to this EP:
– Helium Polites: drums and rhymic composition
– Vassilis Antonakos: sample libraries, analog and digital synth equipment

Alan Stivell: Chemins de Terre (1973)

I reviewed one of Alan Stivell’s other albums, Renaissance of the Celtic Harp on this website, because that album was truly far better than the usual Celtic harp albums you come across (I have also a CD from a well-known Irish folk group, The Chieftains called The Celtic Harp from 1993 that included the Belfast Harp Orchestra, and there’s no doubt about it that the Alan Stivell album absolutely clobbers the Chieftains album by a long shot, but then I’m not the biggest Celtic music fan out there, and Stivell made Celtic music much more palatible to my taste). But Alan Stivell had a rather eclectic career, ranging from traditional to rock, to prog rock, to symphonic, to (especially in the mid 1980s) New Age.

Well, in 1973 he released the album Chemins de Terre, which also received a German release under the title Attention! (meaning if you already own Attention!, you have Chemins de Terre). This album is much more rock-oriented than Renaissance of the Celtic Harp, electric guitar is more dominant, but still with plenty of Celtic instruments like Scottish highland bagpipes, whistles, fiddles, bombarde (Breton double-reed instrument), etc. Stivell also sings on most of the cuts, singing in the language appropriate to these songs (Irish and Scots Gaelic, Welsh, English, Breton). The whole first half of the album consists of traditional British Isles folk music (Irish, Scots, Welsh), the first piece being the Irish “Susy MacGuire”. There is no mistaking the Celtic feel of this song, with vocals in Irish Gaelic, with mandolin, and electric guitar. The song actually starts getting more proggy at the end as guitarist Dan ar Braz gives some almost Pink Floyd-like guitar! Next comes the instrumental Scottish “Ian Morrison Reel” (apparently credited to someone named P. McCleod). It’s about as Scottish as they come, with some really mindblowing intense fiddle playing and Highland bagpipe playing, and you also get to hear some wild drumming (that reminds me something Dave Mattacks would do), and electric guitar. This certainly would not please folk purists (but neither did the folk purists took to well to Bob Dylan when he went electric in 1965), but Alan Stivell wasn’t trying to do that, he was basically operating in a similar vein to such well-known English acts as Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, but in a pan-Celtic context. Next comes the very often covered Irish folk song, “She Moved Through The Fair” (that every traditional folk group from Ireland and Britain, Fairport Convention included had to do a cover of). It’s a rather slow ballad dominated by Stivell’s Breton Harp, and he seems to have little trouble with the English language (since he wasn’t from an English-speaking country). Next is the traditional Welsh song “Can y Melinydd”. I have heard versions of this song sung by a choir, but this version sounds like a Welsh version of Steeleye Span or The Pentangle (without female vocals), with great vocal harmonies and use of banjo and fiddle. Then comes “Oidhche Mhaith”, which is Scottish, sung in Scots Gaelic. Piano is rather dominate with a nice choral feel. Then comes the second half of the album, which is all covers of traditional Breton material, aside from one cut. Here you get the chance to hear Breton vocals! First is “An Dro Nevez”, which is an instrumental piece, dominated by bombarde. “Brezhoneg’raok” is the only piece on the album penned by Alan Stivell. Here he dropped his Celtic roots for full-on prog rock, with electric guitars. It’s really cool to hear a prog rock song sung in a Celtic language, specifically Breton (I am certain Stivell picked up on the prog rock scene, as France was much more friendly to prog than say, Ireland, and France have gave us groups like Gong – well partially, Magma, Pulsar, Atoll, Mona Lisa, Carpe Diem, etc.). “An Hani A Garan” harkens back to Renaissance of the Celtic Harp, since the harp is the dominant instrument, except there are vocals here. “Kimiad” is the closing piece which, while not a favorite of mine, actually features a little Mellotron, really unusual to hear that instrument in Celtic music, but he did!

Certainly this is a great album to start if you’re not familiar with Alan Stivell!
– Alan Stivell: Celtic harp, lead vocal, bagpipes, Irish flute, Mellotron, kettle drum, Harmonium
– Gabriel Yacoub: acoustic guitar, banjo, dulcimer, psaltry, vocal
– René Warraner: fiddle, vocal
– Pascal Stive: organ, piano
– Jean-Luc Hallereau: bass, vocal
– Dan ar Braz: acoustic and electric guitars, vocals
– Michel Santangelli: drums
– Marie Yacoub: spoons, vocals
– Elyane Werneer, Mireille Werneer: vocals
– Michel Delaporte: tablas
– Bagad Bleimor: bagpipes, bombarde, Scottish drums

Pavlov’s Dog: Pampered Menial (1975)

This out of the way, I was born in the 1970s, so I was obviously way too young to have participated in the 1970s, so I’ll tell you how I came about becoming aware of Pavlov’s Dog. Back in 1994, when I was 21, I ran into someone into music and he mentioned me this group called Pavlov’s Dog, and he stated they have a rather ridiculous-sounding singer. Well, I found some further information, the group hailed from St. Louis, Missouri, and they released two albums during their lifetime, Pampered Menial, and their followup, At the Sound of the Bell (1976), which none other than Bill Bruford made an appearance on (a third album, from 1977, did not surface until much more recently).

In 1975, the band released their debut, Pampered Menial, on ABC Records, but for some reason, their relations with ABC didn’t do so good, so they quickly moved to Columbia, and had that album reissued on that label. If you collect LPs, it’s real easy to tell the ABC from the Columbia versions (other than examining the label), while both featuring the same basic artwork, the Columbia cover is better, doesn’t have this frame, and the gatefold is different, where it showed members of the band holding dogs, which the original ABC version did not. I am really convinced that Pampered Menial is about the only album I can think of that got quickly reissued on another label while the band was still alive and kicking!

First of all, you can’t talk about Pavlov’s Dog without bringing up their singer David Surkamp! He’s often compared to Geddy Lee, also seen him described as Marty Balin on helium, but I describe him as like Geddy Lee on helium with a Tiny Tim-like vibrato, which is what you get here! Anyway, the band went to New York to record Pampered Menial, with some production help by none other than Sandy Pearlman, who was a member of Blue Öyster Cult (who themselves were still an up and coming hard rock/heavy metal band as their big breakthrough hit, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” was still a year away)! Musically, they really aren’t too far off what British prog rock bands were doing a few years before: not-so-complex song-based prog (so don’t expect Gentle Giant with Pavlov’s Dog), in fact, thanks to the Mellotron ever present on some of the cuts, I can’t help but be reminded a bit of the Moody Blues, especially the opening cut, “Julia”, which is a ballad, and also a fan favorite. Violin and flute are other instruments used besides the usual rock guitar (guitars, bass, drums, Mini Moog synth). “Late November” is a more harder-edge prog song, but the next three are more in hard rock territory with “Song Dance”, “Fast Gun” and “Natchez Trace”. “Episode” is more or less back in ballad territory, while “Of Once and Future Kings” shows the band at their more complex side (but then again, don’t expect Gentle Giant here).

I really have to say Pavlov’s Dog really isn’t for everyone. David Surkamp’s singing will throw many off, some might laugh at him, some might find him unbearable, and others have no problem with it. You really can’t get around that. Really, you need to listen before you buy. But regardless of the singer, there is some excellent music to be found here.
– David Surkamp: lead vocals, guitar
– David Hamilton: keyboards
– Doug Rayburn: Mellotron, flute
– Mike Safron: drums, percussion
– Rick Stockton: bass
– Siegfried Carver: violin, vitar, viola
– Steve Scorfina: lead guitar

Sloche: J’un Oeil (1975)

Canada is not the first country people look at for prog rock. Many people associate the country with groups like Rush, FM and Saga. Many of these groups don’t always endear to all the proggers out there, mainly because of elements like New Wave, AOR, or (in the case of Rush) hard rock and heavy metal. But there are tons of lesser known groups there, and the French speaking province of Quebec had a nice prog scene going on in the mid to late ’70s independent of the English speaking provinces.

That province had its share of great bands like Harmonium, Maneige, Pollen, Et Cetera, Opus 5, Conventum, and this particular band Sloche.

If you’re to ask a kid these days in Quebec about Sloche, they’ll likely tell you about these gummy candies with gruesome packaging and icy slush drunks sold at Couche Tard convenience stores. Ask a diehard proghead in Quebec about Sloche and they’ll tell you they were simply one of the great prog bands to come out of the province, and they are right! The band managed only two albums, but in my opinion, it’s often nicer to see a band give us only a couple of albums, than embarass us many albums down the road with downright mediocre to embarassing stuff (many major prog acts are guilty of this).

Sloche was formed in 1971 with a completely different lineup than the one that recorded in the mid 1970s. It was when the band acquired keyboardist Réjean Yacoula that one by one, the band started acquiring members that would eventually record.

By 1975, the band consisted of two keyboardists, Réjean Yacoula and Martin Murray, with guitarist Carroll Bérard, bassist Pierre Hébert, and drummer Gilles Chiasson, all credited to vocal duty, although their music was largely instrumental. This was the lineup that recorded J’un Oeil, which was released on RCA Victor! This band combined fusion with symphonic prog, but with restraint where the band knew what mattered most: the music. Symphonic prog rock fans who might not necessarily like fusion would like this album because the music has a strong symphonic feel, but fusion fans will like it for the heavy use of electric pianos, Minimoogs and clavinets.

The album opens with the wonderful “C’Pas Fin du Monde”. I really love those spacy synthesizers that open this piece, with spacy sound effects and string synths, before things settle down with electric piano. There’s some nice worldless voices and some jamming on guitar and keyboards, before the string synths kick in again, then the band gets funky at the end with Hohner clavinet and electric piano. The next piece, “Le Karême D’Eros” is a three movement piece. First is strictly piano, with strong jazz and classical influences, before the second part kicks in, which the whole band participates. Here is actual singing, in French, but what’s really interesting is how guitarist Carroll Bérard would play his thing on lead guitar, then one of the keyboardists would copy what he played on his Mini Moog! The next, and final movement sounds almost like ELP with the electric piano in place of Hammond organ. The title track is by far the most vocal-dominated track on this album, with great use of vocal harmonies, almost Yes-like but without the high pitched voice of Jon Anderson. And while French vocals are often criticized for not going down too well in a prog setting, in the case of Sloche, it works great. But then this is not standard French, but Quebecois French (I am not the one to be able to tell the difference as I don’t speak French). “Algébrique” finds the band more or less in Gentle Giant territory. One thing that must be pointed out was Gentle Giant was apparently quite popular in Quebec, and several groups like Pollen, Maneige, Opus 5, and this group show their GG influences to some degree (although Et Cetera was by far the most GG influenced of the bands), and this piece is a good example. “Potage Aux Herbes Douteuses” is a great piece that closes the album. Carroll Bérard gives some nice rhythms on his guitar, and then the band gets jamming with nice use of string synths, then some great use of wordless voices, before things settle down with Hammond organ and Moog. Then the band kicks in with guitar, before the music ends with a string synth.

I have to admit the cover to this album is a bit silly, the “S” on the “Sloche” logo looks like a green swan to me, and the band photos on the back cover shows the band members in silly poses, like Carroll Bérard with his guitar strapped on, his arms waved out, and the fact he was grinning at his guitar like it was some sort of prized possession. Then there’s Pierre Hébert playing his bass guitar with a solemn expression.

By the way, Sloche, to prove they were no slouches went and released the followup to J’un Oeil, called Stadacone in 1976 and that one, while a little harder to warm up to (because of more complex arrangements), is just as essential. If you ran out of British, German, and Italian prog albums because you acquired all the essentials and then some, dive in the Canada’s Quebecois prog scene, and make Sloche’s J’un Oeil one of your top priorities!
– Réjean Yacoula: piano, Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric pianos, Hohner clavinet, celesta, Mini Moog, percussion, vocals
– Martin Murray: Hammond B3 organ, Mini Moog, Wurlitzer electric piano, Solina String Ensemble, sax, percussion, vocals
– Carroll Bérard: electric and acoustic guitars, percussion, vocals
– Gilles Chiasson: drums, percussion, vocals

Gracious: Gracious!/This Is… (1970/72)

For every Yes, ELP, Genesis, King Crimson, etc., there were many more lesser known prog rock bands. Bands like Gentle Giant, Van der Graaf Generator, Caravan, Cressida, Beggars Opera, Spring, etc. all created some great music but were often forgotten in the mists of time, but those who found out about these bands gave high praise to many of these albums, and for good reason. Gracious was yet another one of these bands. They released two albums and then disappeared. Gracious formed in the mid 1960s at a Catholic school in the well-to-do stockbroker belt of Surrey, England (south of London, Surrey was also home to Genesis as well) playing typical pop covers. The band was known as Satan’s Disciples at that time, probably to cause a stir, since the school they went to was religious in nature. But as the ’60s came near an end, and the band members graduated, the progressive scene started with the likes of King Crimson, Colosseum, Rare Bird, Yes, Genesis, etc. The band started writing original songs, and changing their name to Gracious. They even had the pleasure of being King Crimson’s opening act! And that inspired Gracious’ keyboardist Martin Kitcat to buy a Mellotron. They then signed to Vertigo and released their debut in 1970, which was entitled Gracious! (with the exclamation mark). The album was also released in America on Capitol Records (making that one of the more collectible artists on that label), but with a different cover.

Anyway, their debut is a wonderful, early British prog classic. A lot of the music is quite complex, with lots of great use of piano, harpsichord, and Hohner electric piano, as well as great guitar work from Alan Cowderoy, and jazzy drumming from Robert Lipson. Paul Davis adds some great vocals, in that typical early ’70s British prog style. Don’t buy in to the Mellotron hype on this album, as it’s only used on two cuts, that is “Heaven” and “Dreaming”. The album opens up with “Introduction”. I like the use of harpsichord, and those wonderful Gentle Giant-like vocal harmonies (I’m pretty sure Gentle Giant, who were also Vertigo labelmates, listened to Gracious) and that wonderful guitar solo in the middle.

“Heaven” starts off with some great use of Mellotron, before the acoustic guitar kicks in. When the vocals kick in, the chorus keeps repeating, “Do you have a clean mind?” over and over while singing about doing deeds, good or bad. “Hell” is a truly bizarre piece, where Martin Kitcat playing on a distorted electric piano that makes it sound almost like a synthesizer. This piece sounds a lot like what King Crimson had done, with those dissonant passages. Then suddenly the music changes sounding like honky-tonk music with that ragtime piano and the band being silly, then they suddenly get in to a silly version of Offenbach’s “Can-Can” before going back to Crimson-like territory. “Introduction”, “Heaven” and “Hell” all have religious themes in their lyrics (thanks to their Catholic school upbringings) but don’t let that scare you off.

Side two starts with “Fugue in ‘D’ Minor”, which is basically a classically-oriented piece played on harpsichord and guitar, and is the least rock-oriented piece. The album ends with the 16 minute “Dreaming”. I like how the band starts playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, before they start jamming on electric piano and guitar, being silly by playing a very short clip of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”. I also love those dreamy vocals passages that just blow me away. This piece goes through many different changes and styles. Definately a high point. In 1971, the band recorded their followup This Is… Gracious, but Vertigo Records rejected it and it wouldn’t be until 1972 when Philips Records released it, by which point the band broke up.

This album features artwork by Roger Dean, but looks very little like any of the artwork he’s done for Yes. Anyway, the Mellotron hype of Gracious is totally justified on this album, as it’s used on every cut! This time the band dropped the classical influnces, the harpsichord and electric piano is gone, leaving the Mellotron and standard piano to dominate. The music tends to rely more on grooves, and is perhaps a bit more accessible and song-oriented than their debut, but still quite progressive.

The album starts off with the wonderful side-length suite “Super Nova”. It’s a four movement suite (actually it was supposed to be a five movement suite, but it couldn’t all fit because of time contraint of the LP). The music starts off deceptively in Krautrock territory, sounding like something Amon Düül II or Tangerine Dream were doing at that time. That movement was called “Arrival of the Traveller”. But then they quickly enter British prog territory with the “Blood Red Sun” section. “Super Nova” in general features some killer jamming, as well as some great acoustic ballads (that is “Say Goodbye to Love” and “Prepare to Meet Thy Maker”). All the music of “Super Nova” was about astronauts returning to Earth only to find it destroyed by a super nova (Morgan Fisher did something similar for his 1972 prog rock album Nova Solis).

The second half of the album consists of four cuts that are plastered with Mellotron and lots of great melodies and jams, like “C.B.S.”, “Blues Skies and Alibis”, and “Hold Me Down”. The stunning ballad “What’s Come to Be” was supposed to be included in the “Super Nova” suite but wasn’t. In 1995, BGO Records (Beat Goes On) in England reissued both classic albums as a 2-for-1 CD package, which is by far the best way to get both albums (as neither are easy to come by as original LPs). These two albums are nothing short of essential prog rock classics. If you like King Crimson, the Moody Blues, Gentle Giant, or early British prog in general, you’re sure to enjoy these two albums!
– Paul Davis: vocals, 12-string, timpani
– Martin Kitcat: Mellotron, piano, electric piano, harpsichord, vocals
– Alan Cowderoy: guitar, vocals
– Tim Wheatley: bass
– Robert Lipson: drums